Smelly ‘Corpse Flower’ Blooms at Natural History Collections


The campus’s Natural History Collection was the latest in the nation last week to welcome a blooming Amorphophallus titanum, or 6-foot tall corpse flower, one of the world’s biggest flowering structures. It bloomed overnight on Wednesday, July 3 at its home in the Morrill greenhouses, according to greenhouse manager Chris Phillips.

Phillips extended the collection’s normal public visiting hours to 9 p.m. that day to allow the campus community and the public to stop in and visit the unusual attraction and other special botanicals there. Shortly before the corpse flower opens, it begins to emit the stink of rotting flesh in order to attract pollinators such as carrion beetles and blow flies in its native Sumatran rainforest, he notes.

Botanist and assistant biology professor Madelaine Bartlett, whose research interests include plant development and evolution, and Phillips say the campus had its last blooming corpse flower about four years ago. Bartlett says, “These plants are sophisticated chemical factories; they have an amazing ability to produce chemicals to attract pollinators. It’s biological mimicry of a fascinating kind.”

She adds that the corpse flower is just one of the many examples of biomimicry, unusual pollination methods and botanical oddities found in the campus’s “very special teaching and research collection” that is used regularly to learn about some of the more unusual plants from around the world.

Phillips notes that once a flower blooms, its “peak stinkiness” lasts about 24 to 48 hours depending on environmental conditions. Although the name ‘corpse flower’ is descriptive, it’s misleading. Instead of being a single flower, A. titanum actually bears hundreds of individual flowers; about 400 to 500 male and female on one structure, which grows about three inches per night.

View photos of the corpse flower on Facebook